Friday, September 12, 2014

Endless Summer Ends 

But it's a dry heat/cold/heat/cold/and so on. Image via Wikipedia
“…we rush like Disney-pushed lemmings to the edge of the lake”

In a dystopian future when climate change has left the Earth looking like the surface of Mars with a blistering radiant heat or impossibly frigid cold, we may look back fondly on our childish regret of summer unofficially ending after Labour Day. Until then, we rush like Disney-pushed lemmings to the edge of the lake hoping to wring more summery moments from one last weekend. As I’ve done next to nothing all summer when the bell tolled on August 29 I found myself circling places on the city map and plotting like Gen. Patton a tight schedule of sites to hit. Unfortunately, Friday was wasted buying and installing a ceiling fan but I did get to make another batch of ice cream and made up a weekend bucket list: I wanted to see at least one more movie, swim in an outdoor pool, drink at a microbrewery, and have at least a long bike ride.

Saturday turned into an unusual loop of the city from the east end to the west. In the morning I swam at the indoor Regent Park Pool, then, intending to break in some new riding shoes I planned to ride across town to the Indie Alehouse and somehow ride back for an outdoor evening swim – and stop to see a design exhibit on the way. The exhibit of Japanese design was closed for some reason, so I rode on to Alehouse where I had a sample flight of five of their beers and a meal of mussels and fries. To anyone who knows mussels, these were putzy, puny things and were a disappointment. Luckily the beer did not disappoint. I then bought a growler of their “It Takes Two to Mango” (“It’s like having a real mango in your mouth!” Tobias Funke) - which is 64 fl oz of beer in one large bottle. That’s almost two litres or half a gallon of beer. It turns out that two quarts of beer does not easily fit in a messenger bag. Despite that, I jumped atop my bike and to avoid traffic rode to the Lakeshore trail and headed back across town.

Greenwood Park Pool. Image via Chris Brooker

By the time I got home, the humidity and heat of the ride left me greasy with own sweat. I had just enough time to grab my swim gear and head to the closest outdoor pool about 5 km away at Greenwood Park. I thought it would be busy but this was Labour Day weekend and only a lonely few Torontonians stay in the city. Thus this large and oddly sized pool (35 m versus the typical 25 m) was largely empty. There were only six or eight people in the water and only two of us were actually swimming laps. Toronto’s outdoor pools seem few and far between with probably 12-15 km separating the two closest pools in the east end which may have tens of thousands of swimmers living in that gap. I guess the surge of great outdoor pools coincided with general post-WWII city building. Toronto had its spurts of pools but nothing like what was built in the States or what already existed in Europe. Europeans created beautiful lidos that have since fallen into disrepair with only a handful being restored. In the last few years there have been fantastical concepts of building pools out into polluted rivers as a sort of hygienic way to wrest control of natural waterways from industrial use to purely pleasurable pursuits. I’d love to see something like that in Toronto, say a pool at Sugar Beach (man made) on the shores of Lake Ontario with clean run-off water supplied from Sherbourne Common (a water park that cleans storm run-off via a series of filters). The City promotes several beaches as “blue flag” beaches – essentially it is as clean as a natural body of water can possibly be given how many critters make the Lake their home. I’m spoilt and I want to swim in carefully controlled freshwater free of fish poop, bird droppings and eels. The next best thing to a beach is our public outdoor pools despite their regrettable concrete decks, gaudy plastic water slides and tatty wire fences. The spectre of ugly public design haunts me, and this is pretty much what I had steeled myself to expect. I was wrong to be worried about such trifles. It was spectacular.
“…when your skin is freezing and goose-pimpled but your muscles are hot and venting steam.”
I swim indoors so much I’ve forgotten the natural thrill of swimming outside. Even heavily chlorinated outdoor pools seem less so by indoor standards. I assume it’s because there’s plenty of air for the chlorine to outgas whereas inside, all that smell is trapped just above the waterline. And the water is colder outdoors. Obviously not as cold as a lake but still colder than an indoor pool. Given the heat, the water was at first a shock and then a relief. And instead of seeing only ceiling as you swim, above you is only sky. It’s hard to describe that feeling of gliding through cold water while having the warm sun beaming on your skin. It is therapeutic and restorative and sort of reminds me of playing rugby in November when your skin is freezing and goose-pimpled but your muscles are hot and venting steam. The only time the pool was open for lane swimming was between 7-8 pm and at that hour the light was fantastic. The pre-dusk sky was an amazing purple tinted blue. Each time I reached for a breath I swam from the aquamarine of the painted concrete to the immensely deep and infinite blue overhead. Greenwood pool is flanked by mature trees so that the slapping and splashing of water was interspersed with the sound of a breeze through the leaves and the a cappella songs of nearby birds. The adjacent field lights came on at some point creating shards of light through the watery, shadowy tongues that ran across the pool bottom. Then, as though this were the last day of camp, the life guard announced over a crackling speaker that the last swim of summer had ended and while he was sad to see us go, he hoped we’d had a great season and looked forward to seeing us all back again next year.

I was the last person to leave the change room and I noticed as I rode my bike home how clear my head felt and how easy my breathing was. I discovered something else too. In my haste to get to the pool I’d left my contacts in and for the first time I could see perfectly clearly underwater through my goggles. Maybe that’s why I remember the details so clearly. When I got home, my refreshing swim had already worn off in the mugginess of the night so I had another quick shower, my fifth of the day (you have to shower before entering and after leaving the pool and I had already been for a swim at the indoor pool earlier). Later that night, lying in bed, I felt completely exhausted and only then did I calculate I had swum about 1500 m and biked over 40 km back and forth across town. It was one of the better night’s rest I’ve had recently.

The rest of the weekend paled to that Saturday sequence. Sunday I rode through a quiet Bloor street, closed to traffic for OpenStreets TO. It was a little sad that so few people were out given the difficulty organizers went through trying to make Bloor and Yonge streets pedestrian friendly for just a few hours. There were in fact a few drivers who decided they had to cut through and blared their horns proving themselves to be exactly the jerks you thought they were. To avoid people like that and the kind of people who perform at street festivals I went for breakfast at the Bedford Academy and my eggs Benedict and orange juice were immediately dive-bombed by wasps. Sheesh Toronto, take a break from ruining things. I don’t even recall what I did the rest of the day except that later I went to see a film at the Toronto International Film Centre (To Be Takei, a documentary about the actor George Takei who played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek). Monday was even more of bust as I headed out for a ride but after almost 30 km I was still in the city and the heat was withering enough that I abandoned it and headed home. When I got back I showered and fell asleep on the bed for an inexplicably long time. Napping on the bed is so dangerous as you might wind up there a lot longer than planned whereas on a couch you always feel the urge to get up after a certain time.
“Autumn …suits productivity and introspection, new books, new movies, hot coffee, hardy beers and red wine.”
So it went. The last long weekend of summer. The mornings and nights will grow colder, the days will grow shorter, the afternoon shadows will grow longer. I like Autumn to be honest. I always have. The weather suits productivity and introspection, new books, new movies, hot coffee, hardy beers and red wine. The markets have a full harvest. Cool air is bracing and airsome, and the colour of the sun is flattering to the skin. Summer is time to get out and explore. Autumn is still time to venture out if less so and prepare the larder and all that. I guess the looming underbelly of Labour Day is that winter is coming (or as in the case of Alberta, already here). After last winter you get the feeling that there are only two seasons in Canada; Not-Winter and Winter. If you don’t make the most of Not-Winter, then Winter will suck that much more. I remember one year in Ottawa when we had snow on the ground from Halloween to Easter. Six months of snow. It’s not even six months of fresh fluffy sun-reflecting snow, but more like four months of brown wet slush and two months of brass-monkey ball freezing ice and sleet. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let the leaves turn, apple pies be baked, bread cool on racks, meats be stewed and may the autumnal sun keep the frost away a tiny bit longer.

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